BEIJING, Sept. 12 (Xinhua) -- Receiving messages from central environmental inspectors can be nerve-racking for lower-level officials in China. They need to either act quickly, or risk getting fired.
Central environmental inspections were launched in July 2016, giving environmental officials more power to hold officials accountable for environmental problems.
Inspectors are dispatched by the Ministry of Environmental Protection (MEP) and also include the Communist Party's anti-graft watchdog and personnel department.
Messages sent by inspectors to city officials are immediate calls to action.
Last week, officials in Huzhou in eastern China's Zhejiang Province wasted no time in responding to a lead provided by central inspectors.
The inspectors came to Huzhou on Aug. 11. One resident in a mountainous area reported to them that dead pigs were buried illegally when they should have been properly cremated.
The lead was sent to the Huzhou government on Aug. 30. The next day, police, agricultural and environmental protection officials brought diggers to the area.
Within 10 days, six people, most of whom worked for a waste treatment company, were detained on suspicions of mishandling the dead pigs. Over 300 tonnes of carcasses were found.
Communist Party discipline authorities of Huzhou are investigating officials for possible misdoings.
Central inspectors are seen as the latest weapon in China's fight against soil, air and water pollution, as decades of growth have saddled the country with problems such as smog and contaminated soil.
Since 2016, three rounds of inspections have been carried out, and the fourth round, which began in August, will complete coverage of 31 provinces, municipalities and regions.
So far, nearly 15,000 officials have been disciplined, according to figures released by the MEP.
During the third round, which covers seven provincial-level regions, including Tianjin, Shanxi and Liaoning, inspectors received 31,457 public tip-offs, almost double the number of reports for the second round.
"The figures show that inspection is not empty talk. They have gotten to the root of the problem and are getting anyone who is responsible," said Ma Jun, director of the Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs, a Beijing-based non-governmental organization.
For a single province, inspection usually lasts a month. Inspectors interview provincial and city environmental regulators, carry out field trips and talk to concerned members of the public.
Their reports are shared with the Organization Department of the Communist Party of China (CPC) Central Committee, which is responsible for assessing senior officials.
Inspectors collect reports on environment problems and send them to local governments, which must correct the problems and submit a report back within 30 days, followed by a progress report six months later.
Last year, inspectors looked into 33,000 cases and imposed fines totaling 440 million yuan (about 64 million U.S. dollars). A total of 720 people suspected of a crime were detained and close to 6,500 were disciplined, according to MEP figures.
"During the fight against pollution, an increasing number of environmental problems have been exposed, and there is no hiding, especially the misdoings of some local officials who still chase economic development regardless of the harm done to the environment," said Zhao Hongxu, a resident of Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, who has been working as an environment volunteer.
In August, two high-ranking officials in Tianjin were fired for negligence in enforcing environmental protection policies.
Li Hongyan, who was deputy chief of Dongli District, was removed from his post because four factories within his jurisdiction continued to pollute the environment, and one mechanical factory resisted inspectors twice.
Chen Bo, deputy district head of Jinnan District, lost his post because he did not push for closure of some small and polluting valve manufacturers.
"Removal of high-ranking officials shows the resolve to have a better environment," said Ma Jun.
In order to battle smog around Beijing ahead of winter, the MEP will launch more rounds of inspections starting from September.
Liu Changgen, deputy director of national environmental inspection office, said it will dispatch 100 enforcement teams to fight air pollution around Beijing.
A qualitative assessment will be introduced for the first time on officials. If cities fail to meet annual air quality improvement targets, the Communist Party chiefs, mayors and vice mayors will be held accountable, Liu said.